Things I’m Thinking About….


Like everyone I know, my head is spinning: hurricanes, Las Vegas, and Santa Rosa – along with all of the news from Washington.  Friends recommend taking a news break, and I know they’re right.  But I’ve been addicted to news and reading analysis of current events since college; it is the water I swim in.  Every day I dive in again with the heightened awareness that I am also responsible for putting words and ideas into the minds of our students.

With that in mind, I participated in a day-long conference at Moses Brown in Providence yesterday. The subject of the conference was how to help students discern truth in an age of polarization and “fake news.”  Moses Brown is a Quaker school, dedicated, in their words, to: “….advocating and standing up for a society that is fair and just.”  Their philosophy was the starting point for a day of thought and honest discussion.  Every teacher, when asked what brought them to the conference, expressed a commitment to helping kids discern truth, but as one participant said, “there is no longer an agreed upon truth.”  We each have our own, and we can select our own echo chambers to confirm our beliefs. We began to ask if, as a society, we can agree on ethics and morals. We looked at websites and tried to check our biases. We asked challenging questions for which there are no easy answers. I drove home with more questions than answers, but I appreciated sharing the day with teachers who challenged me with new questions to consider.

I’m also thinking about a new picture book called Shelter by Celine Claire.  I read it yesterday and again this morning. Shelter is a sweet and beautiful story about kindness and generosity. The story opens when a big storm is approaching, and all of the forest animals are safely in their homes when “two figures emerge from the fog” and ask for help. The animals don’t want to help the strangers, but there is a turn of events that makes things more interesting. Shelter is an absolutely essential book for parents and teachers who want to start a conversation about empathy and about what truly matters. I remember years ago hearing that some of Leo Lionni’s picture books have been used in philosophy classes. Shelter could be added to the syllabus.

I’m also thinking about yesterday’s StoryCorps segment on NPR’s Morning Edition. Every Friday, I look forward to hearing this short uplifting piece among the many other stories that aren’t as uplifting. This past Friday’s was a good reminder of the power of libraries. Here’s a link:

I’ve also spent a few days looking at the cover of this middle grade novel:

I absolutely judged The Secret of Nightingale Wood by its cover – and the wonderful reviews I read quickly during Inly’s recent book fair.  The art was done by Helen Crawford-White, a British illustrator and graphic designer.

“Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color.”
― Maggie Nelson, Bluets

It’s the blue of the book cover I’m drawn to, a color that is taking more space in my thoughts these days. I’m drawn to it everywhere, sometimes catching my breath at its beauty. The blue of Mary’s robes in Italian paintings, the blue of the sky, and in the blues I see in photographs or book covers.

Here are some of my favorite blues:

In Morocco, there is a city called Chefchaouen that is known for its blue walls.  I had never heard of it until I saw this photograph on Instagram:

Little Girl in Blue by Modigliani

The Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal

The roof of an outside room at Naumkeag, a historic house in Stockbridge

The blue of this Azurite stone I saw in a display at Amherst College

The blue in Botticelli’s Madonna of the Book

The blue in this detail of a watercolor by John Singer Sargent

It’s a treasure hunt with no end, and I am continuously surprised by its very existence. I am a collector of blue.




The Best Nonfiction Picture Books….


When I was in middle school (or junior high as it was called), I wanted to learn about Walt Disney so I went to the Xenia Library and checked this book out:

I can’t recall many details about Walt, but I can clearly picture myself finding this bright blue book on the library’s adult shelves. This was the 1970s. There were no “Who Was” books, and most of the biographies in the children’s room were about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  Nothing against our first and sixteenth presidents, but my non-fiction diet was limited.

Today we live in a golden age for picture book biographies. Kids can still read about presidents, but they can also learn about inventors and athletes and artists and writers. Some of the best books focus on an incident from a well-known person’s childhood that guided their careers. Others focus on challenges that stood in the way of success. The best of them leave a young reader wanting to know more.

Below are five of the most inspirational new picture book biographies – and five favorites from the past few years.  There’s a lot to learn from all of these people:

The Best of the New:

Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing by Dean Robbins and illustrated by Lucy Knisley

All of these books celebrate curiosity, and Margaret Hamilton, the American computer scientist, began asking big questions when she was a little girl: “Why didn’t more girls grow up to be doctors? Or scientists? Or anything else they wanted,” she asks.  Knisley’s lively cartoon-like illustrations show the young Margaret reading and drawing and playing the piano before learning to write code.  As the director of software programming for an MIT laboratory working for NASA, Margaret is instrumental in guiding Apollo 8 and 9 and 10.  When NASA was ready to send a man to the moon, they counted on Margaret’s code:

Margaret and the Moon will inspire young readers to shoot for the moon!

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating and illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens

From her first visit to an Aquarium in New York, Eugenie Clark was fascinated by sharks. Although there was pressure on Eugenie to follow a more traditional path, she devoted herself to learning “everything she could about them,” and became a respected scientist who was called the Shark Lady!

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

It’s impossible not to be inspired by the career and determination of the 84-year-old associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.  There’s even a new book, The RBG Workout written by her personal trainer, being published next week!  Her philosophy of “disagreeing without being disagreeable” is a good guide during these divisive times.

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Sometimes picture book biographies for young readers can tell stories about people we haven’t heard about before.  Audrey Faye Hendricks is a perfect example of picture book as introduction to a brave person and an important movement. She was only nine-years-old when she marched for freedom in the Birmingham Children’s March. The picture of a little girl sleeping on a bare mattress in a jail cell is a powerful example of personal sacrifice and commitment to a cause.  After I read this book to a group of 4th and 5th graders last year, I asked them if there was anything they felt strongly enough about that they would take a risk.

A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E.B. White by Barbara Herkert ; illustrated by Lauren Castillo

This book will be published in two weeks, but I’ve seen most of it in various forms, and I will be standing by the school mailbox on October 24. The book opens with young Elwyn White being sick in bed and making friends with a mouse. He begins writing in a journal and the animals he loved so much – and we know where that leads….

And here are five picture book biographies I regularly pull from Inly’s shelf:

The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins by Barbara Kerley and illustrated by Brian Selznick (a book about a man who, in the 1800s, created life size model of dinosaurs.  I’m not a dinosaur enthusiast, but this is hands-down one of the best books about passion and determination I’ve ever read.  When kids are tempted to give up, I show them this book.)

The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors by Chris Barton and illustrated by  Tony Persiani (the story of the brothers who figured out how to create fluorescent colors.  A timely book about innovation and creativity!)

Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman by Kathleen Kruss and illustrated by David Diaz (I first read this book to my son when he was seven or eight, and it entered our weekly rotation.  An amazing story of overcoming tremendous odds.)

Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man by David Adler and illustrated by Terry Widener (It’s hard to read the closing pages of Gehrig’s life story without welling up. If a teacher or friend asks you to recommend a good book about dignity, this is the one.)

When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson by Pam Munoz Ryan and illustred by Brian Selznick (Selznick’s illustrations capture the drama and historical significance of the moment Marian Anderson sang in front of the Lincoln Monument.)

I’m leaving so many good book off this list that deserve to be there: Odd Boy Out: Young Albert Einstein by Don Brown, Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson, the Big Words series by Doreen Rappaport, Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull.  All classics among an embarrassment of riches!

Happy Reading!


Reading Around the World – and A Reader Writing His Own Story…

Leave a comment

We started our trip around the world in Canada this year – mostly because I was excited to share Carson Crosses Canada by Linda Bailey with our lower elementary students.

Inly has a three-year curriculum that includes the Ancient World, America, and the World. This is a “world year,” and my goal is to read stories from authors outside of the United States and follow our progress on a map. Exceptions to our international reading will be made for major holidays – my favorite part of Halloween is The Hallo-Wiener by Dav Pilkey!

We are not traveling efficiently, but rather on a whim. Since school started, we’ve read stories set in Canada, Japan, and India. In the interest of a broader selection, the rules are somewhat flexible. Preferably, the author or illustrator will live in the country we read about, but the setting works too.  For example, Adele and Simon in China by Barbara McClintock will be included because it’s a wonderful introduction to China.

With impeccable timing, four new books arrived last week that are perfect additions to our journey:

Tea With Oliver by Mika Song

I would read this book to my classes anyway, but the fact that Song grew up in the Philippines makes it even better. Oliver is a cat who “talks to himself a lot.” More than anything, Oliver wants to have tea with a friend.  The problem is that he literally doesn’t see Philbert, a mouse who lives under the couch and would love to join Oliver for tea.  Many potential tea friends show up for a party, but they are far too busy dancing to want tea. There’s a happy ending to a story as sweet as the cookies that appear on the last page!

Robinson by Peter Sis

Sis’s beautiful new book is based on a experience he had as a child in the Czech Republic. He went to a costume party dressed as one of his heroes, Robinson Crusoe, but the other children don’t appreciate his costume. Feeling embarrassed, the young boy goes home and crawls into his bed where, in a dream sequence that reminds me  of Max sailing off “through night and day….to where the wild things are” he arrives in a world of his own imagination.

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna

One of the most beautiful books published in the last few years is A Lion in Paris which was also written and illustrated by Alemagna.  This one is equally special. Like Robinson by Peter Sis, it is a tribute to the imagination. A mom and a child arrive at a cabin on a rainy day, and the child immediately begins playing a hand-held video game. “Actually,” the text reads, “I was just pressing the same button over and over.”  When mom takes the game away and encourages her child to go outdoors, the child tucks the video game into the pocket of the bright orange rain slicker.  It’s not long, though, before the game falls into the pond.  The adventures, both literal and magical, begin after that.

Still Stuck by Shinsuke Yoshitake

Undoubtedly, there will be a week when everyone is feeling a little grumpy. Perhaps a grey day in January?  This book by the Japanese author and illustrator is laugh-out-loud funny and a sweet spot read-aloud for young children.  A little boy, determined to undress himself before his bath, gets stuck in his shirt. Naturally, he begins to wonder what life would be like if he stayed stuck in his shirt!

A Memorable Library Visit…..

Among the greatest pleasures of working in a school library are those unexpected moments when you can literally witness a child in the act of creation – not the kind of creating that happens with a 3D printer, but building with words. On Friday, while Mary and I were talking about the week ahead, a student came into the library. He explained that he was working on an identity project and wanted to make a list of the books he loves. With joy and determination, he stacked books all over the table, stories that together are a part of who he is. After watching him collecting and typing or a few minutes, Mary and I began to help. We shelved while he visited every shelf to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything.

With his permission, here are some of the books on his list:

The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

Books by Stuart Gibbs

books by Kelly Barnhill

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

Books by Chris Grabenstein

Books by Brian Selznick

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

And he didn’t forget picture books…

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crocket Johnson

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina

Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion

There were many others, but he may still be adding titles…….

Happy Reading!




Inspiring Children’s Books About Immigrants and Refugees…


With immigration and the status of refugees on the nation’s front burner, kids are going to have questions. There are many good children’s books that will encourage kids to wonder about what it’s like to move to a new country.  Here are five picture books that are gateways to deeper questions:

Welcome by Barroux (I love this sweet and engaging book about three polar bears looking for a new home.  They keep meeting animals who have “reasons” the bears can’t move to a new land.  Reasons like there’s “not enough room” or, like the giraffes, pretend not to hear the polar bears at all.  What is especially appealing about this book is that it can be read to young children as a story about welcoming new children to their classroom or after school activity.  The book’s message is just what the title says!)

I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien (This is a really sweet book, and like Welcome, it’s perfect for very young children) O’Brien’s tells the story of three immigrant children at a new school.  The kids are from Guatemala, Korea, and Somalia, and they are struggling to learn a new language, fit in with new classmates, and hold on to their traditions.  Parents and teachers sometime ask me to suggest books that teach empathy. This is the book.)

The Journey by Francesca Sanna (Inspired by the author’s visit to a refugee camp in Italy, Sanna describes her book as “a collage of all those personal stories and the incredible strength of the people within them.”)

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs and Nizar Ali Badr (This is a truly unforgettable book. Badr is a stone artist, and he uses stones and pebbles to illustrate a Syrian family’s experiences as refugees.  The story is told in dual language text: English and Arabic.  A masterpiece.)

Teacup by Rebecca Young (The story of a young boy looking for a new place to live.  He travels on a boat carrying “a book, a bottle, and a blanket. In his teacup he held some earth from where he used to play.”  The oil paintings of the boy alone on the sea are incredibly powerful.)

On the topic of immigration and mixing cultures….

Every year I can count on a number of parents who will stop by the Inly Library to talk about the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  The books are thrilling and beautiful – and problematic.  As a childhood (and adult) fan of the Little House books, I understand the questions parents have about how to navigate a series that includes passages like: “White people are going to settle all this country, and we get the best land because we get here first and take our pick. Now do you understand?” Understand?  Not really. But reading the books to an older child, a child able to engage in conversation, presents an opportunity to talk about stereotypes, racism, and our country’s complicated history.

In honor of the 150th anniversary of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birth, there was a good story about the series.  Here’s a link:

The sweet illustration at the top of the post is by Penelope Dullaghan.  She is the artist responsible for the beautiful cover of Lucky Broken Girl:

I follow Dullaghan on Instagram which is where I saw the banner picture – and a note reading “feel free to share.”

Finally…here’s a cute picture Mary took in the library this week:

Happy Reading!


New School Year = New Books


As the books come out of the boxes and join Inly’s Library, I begin making a mental list matching books to potential readers.  The kids return to school on Wednesday, and there will be immediate waiting lists for: the third book in Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man series, Babymouse: Tales From the Locker, and The Force Oversleeps, the fifth installment in Jarrett Krosoczka’s Star Wars series.

But the best part of unpacking is finding new favorites, gems that will be perfect read-alouds or conversation sparks.  If you are looking for books to add to a classroom or home library, here are five picture book standouts from the boxes…

Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton by Sherri Duskey Rinker and John Rocco

This picture book biography of the author of Mike Mulligan and The Little House, is one of the most beautiful books of the season.  Echoing Burton’s style in her timeless classics, Big Machines tells the story of Burton’s life and her creative process.  There are countless possibilities for using this book in the classroom and the art room. I’m interested in using this book to talk about Burton’s focus on how time (and people) impact their environments.

How To Be An Elephant by Katherine Roy

The artwork is the star here.  Roy follows the life of a newborn elephant and provides information about every aspect of life as an African elephant – if you can take your eyes off the illustrations!

Come With Me by Holly McGhee

Teachers and parents want to teach children to be empathetic, and for obvious reasons, the volume of that conversation has risen over the past six months.  The hard thing is that empathy can’t really be taught in the way math or grammar are. It has to be witnessed every day – in the words we use and read and hear.  McGhee’s book is a book about small actions that make the world a better place.

Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt

When my son was young, maybe three, we were in the grocery store one day.  As I pushed the basket, he suddenly asked: “why are we here?” I launched into an explanation of how we buy food each week and how the grocery store works, when he stopped my over-long response.  “No,” he said.  “Why are we here?  On this planet?  At this time?”  That’s a whole different question that I don’t remember how I answered, but it would have been easier if I had this book. Such a natural question, right?  Of course, kids wonder: why am I me – and not someone else? There are no simple answers, of course, but Britt’s book provides kids a way to express their wonder at being alive.

Creepy Pair of Underwear! by Aaron Reynolds

Time for a break! After all of that thinking about “big questions,” we all need something more lighthearted, and this is just the book.  Jasper Rabbit (the star of Creepy Carrots!) is back – and he’s older and braver – until the lights go out and his new underwear begin to glow….

I hope you had a wonderful and restful summer.  A new year of stories from the school library begins tomorrow!


New Books and a New Bookstore….

Leave a comment

It’s summer.  My blog posts have become sporadic, but there’s time to read my stack of unread New Yorkers and sit on the deck with an iced mocha.  The pages keep turning though: books for my middle grade book club at Buttonwood Books and Toys, books about Emily Dickinson for a class I’m taking later this month, and the most fun reading – looking at new books for Inly’s library.  This morning, Mary and I met at school to experience Christmas in July by opening the boxes that have arrived over the past few weeks.  So many good ones, but two that I would encourage my colleagues in other school libraries and classrooms to consider adding to their collections:

Life by Cynthia Rylant and Brendan Wenzel 

I love this book even though I’m not sure exactly who it’s for.  It’s a tribute to the world, to life itself. The book celebrates the glories of the natural world and, like poetry, encourages reflection.  It opens with an illustration of a seedling surrounded by mountains and the text reads: “Life begins small.”  On the next page there is an illustration of elephants gathered around a baby elephant, and it continues: “Even for the elephants. Then it grows.”  The message is one children have heard before, but the illustrations and words work together so beautifully that it manages to feel fresh.  It’s a book teachers could read at the start of a conversation about the life cycle. I would read it to a group of older students to show them that more words are not always better.  It would also be a lovely gift for a child (or adult) who needs a reminder that “it is worth waking up in the morning to see what might happen.”

A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices by Sally Derby and Mika Song

Six children, between kindergarten and fifth grade, get ready for a new school year. Through 24 free verse poems, we meet Ethan, Zach, Katie, Jackie, Carlos, and Mia as they share their excitement and worries. The book is divided into four sections: “The Night Before,” “In the Morning,” “At School,” and “After School” and each child has a poem in each section.  The kids are different in how they look and their anxieties about school.  For example, Katie is concerned that: “Miss Kring won’t be my teacher for second grade like I wanted. Instead I’ll have a new teacher, someone I don’t even know. The letter said his name is Mr. Patterson. Teachers at my school aren’t called Mr. Their names begin Miss or Mrs., like they’re supposed to.”  There are countless possibilities for using this book in a classroom: a read aloud on the first day, a starting point for writing poetry about first day jitters, and, because the kids here are so distinct, an introduction to inventing a character.  No classroom should be without this one!

During a visit to Newburyport earlier this week, I visited the Jabberwocky Bookshop.  It was a lovely surprise. Spacious and well-stocked, Jabberwocky is a must-visit for bookstore collectors.  It’s definitely a store I will visit again….

My personal reading has not gone as planned – but that’s okay. I read “on a plan” all school year so digressions from the “to read” pile are welcome. The other evening, reaching to pick up the next book on my summer list, I was instead drawn to Hisham Matar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, The Return.

Matar is the son of a well-known Libyan dissident who disappeared in 1990.  After many years away, he returned to Libya to learn the truth of what happened to his father and to reconnect with the place of his birth.  Moving between the present and the past, The Return is also a meditation on the passage of time and the story of a revolution.  I am so happy that the “reading god” reached down and put this one in my hands. In addition to teaching me about a part of the world I knew very little about, it is so beautiful that I find myself re-reading sentences on every page.  I’m leaving my next book choice to fate!

Happy Reading!

New Books!

Leave a comment

New books – two of the most beautiful words in the English language!

This one is amazing.  A Newbery contender perhaps?

All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson will be released in early September, and I anticipate a waiting list by the end of the first day of school. Fans of Jamieson’s first middle grade graphic novel, Roller Girl, are going to love All’s Faire in Middle School.  At the center of the story is eleven-year-old Impy who is beginning 6th grade in a “real” school after being home schooled.  As Impy describes it herself, her life with her parents and younger brother is pretty “normal.”  There is one thing though that makes Impy’s family stand out: her family is part of the Florida Renaissance Faire.  In fact, her parents are both cast members during the weekend festivities, and Impy is looking forward to training to be a squire. She fits in perfectly at the Faire, but middle school is a different story.  The rules are different and not as clear.

During weekend performances on the Faire’s main street, Impy is comfortable asking visitors if they are “looking for victuals” and using phrases like “loggerheaded rump-fed giglet,” but trying to figure out what shoes she should wear to school is more challenging.  Of course, mistakes are made and there are consequences, but Impy and her family are memorable characters.

And there’s this…..

I read The Quest for Z by Greg Pizzoli and immediately started thinking of various ways to use this book in classes – and making a mental note about kids who will enjoy this fascinating story. It’s a picture book based on the life of Percy Fawcett, a British explorer who spent years searching for a mythical civilization in the Amazon rain forest.  Born in 1867, Fawcett was born into an adventurous family, and from the beginning he was committed to learning to surviving in the jungle. He took numerous trips deep into South America where, Pizzoli writes, Fawcett “heard stories from locals that gave him clues to the possible location of the lost city of Z, and he became obsessed.”  Ultimately, Fawcett disappeared during one of his explorations, but his story caught the imagination of people then and now.  Pizzoli writes: “It’s estimated that as many as one hundred people have disappeared or died in the hunt for Percy Fawcett and the blank spot on the globe that he called Z.”

In fact, this book reminded me of a bestselling book from a few years ago, The Lost City of Z: A Deadly Tale of Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann.

Speaking of new books…

I went book shopping today with a 5th grade Inly student. Our mission: her summer reading plan.  It was a successful trip:

Based on her interests and Inly’s summer reading list, here are the books she is going to read this summer:

Happy Reading!